Woofers & Tweeters Ensemble, Beatle Barkers
1983 was a year of many momentous innovations in popular music—one of them being the rise of sampling. And then there’s Beatle Barkers. The ’83 album by Woofers & Tweeters Ensemble banked on deathless Beatles nostalgia—plus the novelty of dog barks played back on a sampling keyboard—to sell its ear-shredding versions of Lennon-McCartney classics. Not only did Beatle Barkers get made, it apparently was successful enough to inspire a trend of such releases, not to mention warm memories of the days when people had the talent and vision to train real dogs to bark along to music.
Mickey Mouse, Splashdance
Rodents riffing on popular movies was a cottage industry in ’83. Hot on The Happy Hamsters’ heels was the king of cartoon vermin himself was Mickey Mouse, whose album Splashdance could be considered “inspired” by Flashdance—if there were anything remotely resembling inspiration on it. Flogged mercilessly on TV commercials well into 1984, the album features songs like the misleadingly motivational “You Can Always Be #1,” whose zero-sum game-flaunting refrain of “You can always be number one / You can always be the winner!” may have led an entire generation of Disney fans to grow up and crash the stock market. (Almost-saving grace: the track “Minnie Mouse” by art-pop outfit Sparks.)
Will Powers, Dancing For Mental Health
Envisioned as a parody of self-help albums, Dancing For Mental Health suffers either the worst or the most noble fate a work of satire can have: being indistinguishable from the target of its scorn. In this case, that target is the upwardly mobile, go-getter mindset that had already taken hold by 1983. The parodist is music-industry vet Lynn Goldsmith, who enlisted high-powered friends such as Sting and Steve Winwood to help her pull one over on the poor saps of America just looking for a little healing and motivation through the therapeutic shaking of ass.
Rodney Dangerfield, Rodney Rappin’
Novelty rap records come and novelty rap records go, but in 1983 none rapped with more magisterial novelty than Rodney Dangerfield. The Borscht Belt stalwart was riding high on a late-blooming movie career when the idea of having the corniest white dude in America take on that crazy talking-music all the urban kids seem to enjoy was hatched. Better yet, it’s an extended 12-inch single that features a full, 18-minute version of “Rodney Rappin,’” during which the comic’s catchphrase-tastic lack of respect gets jackhammered into the collective consciousness of an era.
Amy Grant, Ageless Medley EP
When Christian pop singer Amy Grant released her EP Ageless Medley in 1983, it was meant as a promotional record only—a medley, as the title indicates, that offered industry types a sampler of her broad range as an artist (that is, inspirational, glorifying, and glorifyingly inspirational). But radio DJs started spinning the entire six-minute mini-epic, which crams the highpoints of eight of Grant’s classics into a single, seamless, nauseatingly saccharine track. With easy-to-swallow medleys like this, who needs an excessively complete version of “Sing Your Praise To The Lord”?
Rick Dees, Hurt Me Baby, Make Me Write Bad Checks!
Radio personality Rick Dees has played on both sides of the field, scoring his own radio hit with the inhumanly irritating “Disco Duck” in 1976. Not content to be a one-hit wonder, he unleashed Hurt Me Baby, Make Me Write Bad Checks!, a 1983 album that’s packed full of skit-like noises that basically bleed into a single mega-track of meandering, cheesy, self-indulgent humor. It’s the kind of humor that makes “Disco Duck” sound like Richard Pryor by comparison.
Various Artists, Yor, The Hunter From The Future Original Soundtrack
Yor, The Hunter From The Future did not exactly set the box office on fire in 1983, but it is fondly remembered for its campy, slapdash blend of science fiction and fantasy that tried to split the difference between Flash Gordon and Conan The Barbarian. Less fondly remembered is its soundtrack. As much of a cut-and-paste job as the film itself (which was cobbled together from episodes of an Italian TV miniseries), the overwrought soundtrack is headlined by the new-wave-discotheque-friendly “Yor’s Theme,” which remains a shining example of less-than-shining ’80s movie music.
Pantera, Metal Magic
Before the late Dimebag Darrell became one of the most influential metal musicians of the ’90s as the guitarist of Pantera, he was Diamond Darrell—the teenager who, alongside brother Vinnie Paul, made Metal Magic. Pantera’s 1983 debut was recorded by the siblings’ father, and it shows. Goofy, paper-thin, and bearing zero of the groove-metal menace that the band would vulgarly display the next decade, Metal Magic is a curiosity among Pantera collectors—and unlike raw-but-promising ’83 metal debuts like Metallica’s Kill ’Em All and Slayer’s Show No Mercy, an album that in no way predicts what Pantera would become.
Brian May + Friends, Star Fleet Project
Unlike the young Diamond Darrell, Brian May had no reasonable excuse to suck circa 1983. Yet the Queen guitarist (+ Friends) felt the need to release Star Fleet Project. Of the EP’s three needlessly long songs (ranging from seven to 12 minutes each) is “Let Me Out”—which seems the most promising, what with a guest appearance by Eddie Van Halen, who was also at the peak of his powers at the time. Instead, it’s a lousy, lazy bar-rock jam that features a solo so beneath Van Halen’s talent, the phrase “phoned in” would be an insult to phones.
Ringo Starr, Old Wave
With John Lennon’s death in 1980, all hopes of a Beatles reunion were long gone by the time Ringo Starr released 1983’s Old Wave. Freed from such a possibility, he let it all hang loose—more so than he usually did on his lackluster, all-star solo albums. No amount of guest musicians (including the great Joe Walsh, who was Starr’s second-hand man on the record) could redeem its bland codger-rock, a quality Starr tried to lightheartedly highlight with the title. It didn’t work; in fact, he couldn’t even find a U.S. label to release the album. Too bad the Woofers & Tweeters Ensemble weren’t looking for a drummer.